Lawman Jack Munroe didn't want to see the truth about his troubled little girl, especially when she was caught shoplifting in Katherine McKaslin's Christian bookstore. Being a single father was hard on a man's faith and patience, and he didn't need the all-perfect Katherine telling him how to impose discipline. Yet, he began to see the positive effects Katherine had on his daughter...and on him. Jack hadn't been looking for a relationship, but this strong and beautiful woman made him wonder if God wanted him to risk a second chance at love.
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"Go on, do it." The barely audible whisper skimmed over the tall aisle of displayed greeting cards on the other side of the store.
Ordinarily, there was too much noise in the Corner Christian Book Store to hear a low, private conversation. But with the heavy February snowfall tumbling just outside the Spring Is Coming front window display and the fact that most of the customers had hurried through their shopping and left for home when the snow began falling in earnest, the whispering was almost too loud in the quiet, nearly empty store.
Katherine McKaslin didn't stop her work straightening and restocking the greeting-card display, but she did look around. The last time she'd heard those words whispered in the store, someone had been shoplifting.
Two teenage girls stage right, between the crystals case and the humorous greeting cards. They giggled softly, their heads bobbing together to tell secrets. All Katherine could see of them over the chin-high displays were the tops of their heads. One had a tuft-like hairdo of orange spikes, and her friend had blond hair streaked with blueberry strands.
Ah, teenage rebellion. It was a stage she'd missed entirely, which was probably why she was thirty-two and still single. She'd always been stuck in the same rut. There was comfort in the familiar.
Whenever she got an impulse to color her hair"not orange or blue"and maybe add a few highlights to her plain blond locks or wear shoes with more than a sensible one-inch heel, it was short-lived. What would her family think? How would she explain it?
They'd probably say, that's not like you, Katherine, what's gotten into you? And so here she was, thirty-two and working in her parents' store, wearing sensible low-heeled shoes and a black blazer, blouse and skirt that suited a conservative businesswoman. Ever since she'd been a teenager, she'd been afraid of making mistakes.
"I'll be back," Spence, her brother, called as he shrugged into his nicest coat. "Send prayers and positive thoughts."
With a chime of the overhead bell, the door swished shut behind Spence and she was alone on the floor. She swung her gaze back to her work, pressing down serious worries over the store's worsening financial situation. Her stomach tightened with dread, but before she could send a prayer on Spence's behalf, a blur of movement caught her eye.
There, in the corner security mirror, she had a perfect view of the blue-haired girl slipping something inside her oversized purple book bag.
Oh, no. You aren't shoplifting, right? Katherine waited, pulse thumping, hoping against hope the teen was reaching for her cell phone. Or maybe the girl was checking where she'd left her keys. Customers did that all the time.
But even as she searched for other possibilities, Katherine knew gut-level that it was serious. One look in the mirror showed the empty spaces in the crystals case right in front of the door. The door that should have been locked. Sure enough, the blue-haired teenager had just made a colossal mistake.
Go on, kid, put the figurines back. That would be the best outcome for everyone involved, she thought as she crossed the floor calmly to the counter. Give the girls the chance to do the right thing.
It had happened before in situations like this and it could happen again. She stared hard at the top of the girls' heads and wasn't surprised when the blue-haired girl looked up. Katherine couldn't tell the girl's exact expression beneath the layers of mascara, thick black eyeliner and shadow, but she thought she saw a flash of fear before a brittle hardness settled into a cold-eyed stare.
Okay, maybe not the nicest girl on the planet, but she didn't look like the worst, either. And that brief flash of genuine emotion was telling. The girl wasn't well practiced at stealing. Maybe she wasn't a hardened criminal just yet.
"Put them back, please." Maybe the please had been a little too polite. That was another one of her problems. "Return the figurines or I'll call the police."
Those hard eyes widened in horror. In a split second both girls dashed around the display case, and raced toward the door.
Big mistake. This was not what she wanted. Katherine took off after them, heart heavy, as the detectors went off. The girls flew out onto the sidewalk. Another few seconds and they'd be lost in the thickly falling snow.
Kelly slung open the break room door. "What's wrong?"
"Shoplifters. Call the cops."
Trusting her best employee to make the call, Katherine hurried out into the storm. The blast of the cold January snowstorm struck her like a brick wall. She swiped the wind-driven snow from her face. Which way had they gone?
North, into the storm and in the direction of the high school, judging by the fresh sets of boot prints. The veil of snow thickened, and they were gone from her sight. Right along with about two hundred and fifty dollars in merchandise she suspected.
Great. Katherine dropped to a walk, lost in the swirling snow. It wasn't the financial loss to the store that bothered her. Those girls were on a troubled path. The police were on their way, and it was out of her hands now. Too bad, because she knew how devastating the consequences of a single act could be.
Watch over them, Lord, she prayed. Those girls would need all the help they could get.
"They're on their way," Kelly's voice called through the storm. "Katherine? Are you out here?"
"Yes, thanks, Kelly. Go back inside where it's warm." Too bad her toasty and sensible goose down coat was hanging neatly in the break room closet. She could really use it about now. Her teeth chattered; she was already an icicle. There was no sense chasing after the girls in this cold, not when she had no chance of catching them, since she was probably the slowest runner in the world.
Best to head back inside and wait for the"
A flash of blue shot through the thick veil of snowfall. The police? Were they already here? Talk about a quick response. Lights strobed dully, but the vehicle had stopped somewhere in the middle of the parking lot. Had they caught sight of the girls?
The beam of red and blue faded. Didn't they usually leave those on? She couldn't see a thing, the storm was whipping up into whiteout conditions. Then a girl's voice rose above the wind just up ahead and Katherine rushed toward the sound.
"Hurry, Dad!" One of the girls'voices rose above the wind. "We gotta get outta here right now. Uhcuz we're totally freezing."
Perfect. The dad had come to pick up the girls, and she could fix this right now. Speak with the man responsible for his shoplifting teenager. Not that she liked confrontations, but this had to be done. She wasn't sure what had happened to the police cruiser, but the slam of a door told her she was running out of time. Hurry. She could still catch them.
Suddenly, shadows materialized from the shroud of falling snow. She recognized the shape of a patrol car, the taillights glowing faintly red as it idled in the lot. She had a perfect view of the blue-haired teenager sheltered in the front passenger seat, but she couldn't see the driver.
No response, but the blue-haired girl's shocked face filled the front passenger window. The vehicle eased forward.
"Officer! Wait!" She couldn't believe her eyes. They were actually getting away? What kind of police were the city hiring? Men who covered up crimes for their daughters?
Oh no you don't, mister. Sometimes it paid to be ultraorganized"although some people might call it slightly compulsive. She whipped her pen and notepad of sticky notes she always carried with her out of her pocket and ran after the car, squinting at the faint license plate numbers. Once she had them safely noted, she huffed to a stop and slipped the note and pen safely into her pocket.
The taillights stopped, barely more than a faint glow in the thick curtain of snow. Thank goodness, he'd stopped. Now she could straighten this out, even if her chest was knotted up so tight she couldn't breathe. She really hated confrontations, but she could handle this.
How on earth should she handle this? If this was the responding officer and he was the father of one or both of the girls, then he was going to be upset, naturally. She didn't like upset men, but then, who did? She took a steadying breath. Lord, help me find the right way"
Was it her imagination or were those taillights coming closer? Wait, the rear bumper was definitely rushing toward her. She stopped running, but her heel slid forward on the ice. She skated right at the approaching license plate. He was going to hit her.
Tires squealed and the vehicle stopped. She thudded against the car, stopping her forward skid with her hands against the end of the trunk. Her knee struck the bumper of the car. Pain shot through her kneecap.
A tall shadow of a man emerged out of the snowfall and loomed over her, as big as a grizzly. "What is your problem, lady? I almost hit you. You can't go running at a moving vehicle. What's wrong with you?"
She opened her mouth but no words came.
He halted, towering above her with what had to be over six foot three inches of brawny, powerful man. His baritone boomed like thunder. "Are you hurt?"
He was kind of scary, and her knees wobbled. She opened her mouth again and to her surprise a word actually came out. "Y-yo." Too bad it was a word that didn't make any sense.
"Do you need help? Detox?"
Maybe it was his judgmental tone or the derisive lift of his upper lip, but her shock melted away like ice under hot water. "Excuse me? I certainly have never needed anything close to detox. When my sales associate called 911 for assistance, this isn't what we had in mind. An officer doesn't usually help the perpetrators escape the scene of the crime. What kind of cop are you?"
Wow, was she being assertive or what? "I'm the off-duty kind of officer on his way home after a bad shift.And that means I'm in a horrible mood." He put his hands on his hips, emphasizing both the breadth of his iron shoulders and the shadowed gun holstered at his hip. "Now, why did you run at my vehicle?"
"I was writing down your license-plate number. I told you. We called in a shoplifting incident."
"You're not in any danger?"
"Well, no. Not since you got out of your car."
If that made a dent in his one-track line of thought, she couldn't see it. He was more shadow and substance in the heavy storm, and the snow didn't touch him.
"Look, I'm a state trooper, not a town cop. This isn't my jurisdiction. Why don't you go back into your little store and wait for the proper authorities to show up. And stay away from moving vehicles. You could have gotten hurt."
Wow, she didn't like condescending, self-important men. And it had been a while since one had made her so angry so fast. "I don't need a big strong man like you to tell me that. What I need is for you to bring your daughters back to my store."
"Daughter. The other girl isn't mine."
"The blue-haired girl stole two collectible figurines from my store."
"No way, lady."
"Are you listening to me? You just aren't getting this through your head, are you?"
Why me? Jack Munroe swiped the snow from his eyes. He wished he could rub away his exhaustion as easily. He was beat, and he'd reached his tolerance quota for the day. The last thing he needed was a highand-mighty woman like the one standing before him, all judgmental righteousness. He'd used up his patience for dealing with that kind of woman when he'd been married. "You're not in any danger?"
"Is anyone else in any danger?"
"Did you hurt yourself when you ran into my patrol car?"
"Fine. I don't know why you're so confused, but I've had a hard day. I'm not going to deal with this nonsense, not right now. I suggest you go back inside before you freeze and wait for the local cops to come take your report."
He watched as the woman reached into her slim skirt pocket. Not for a weapon, no, but a hundreddollar pen and small notepad. She began writing furiously, pausing to sweep off the fat snowflakes that landed on her dainty pink pad.
Leaning in, she squinted at his chest. She was tall, and in the dusk of the storm, her light hair gleamed like platinum. "Your badge number. Now, your name would be?"
She didn't look delusional and psychotic, not for a woman who was standing in an arctic storm in a designer suit and glaring up at him like a hungry reporter ready to jot down crucial information on her square pad of sticky notes. She didn't look confused, but efficient and organized.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Sweet story, enjoyed reading it. I've read several of the McKaslin Clan series and have enjoyed each one.
This story brought back many memories of life's hardships. It's only by the grace of God and faith in Him that you make it through. Wisdom and courage to listen to God's gentle whisper makes all the difference. I've learned over the years that we all have a path to travel, but stop and listen for the direction in which you should go. This would be an excellent teen/young adult devotional.